VILNIUS, Lithuania — NATO scored some significant successes at its summit that ended Wednesday as it worked hard to show unity in supporting Ukraine’s bloody defense against a Russian invasion.
Türkiye raised its objections to Sweden’s membership. The alliance has agreed to new spending targets and its most ambitious military plans to defend Europe since the Cold War. There were new commitments to provide long-term support to Kiev. All 31 member states agreed that Ukraine belonged to NATO, an important shift stemming from its courageous and resilient defense of its country and Western values.
However, the final summit report, in its vaguely diplomatic language, makes no secret of some serious tensions among alliance members in the bitter fight over how to describe Ukraine’s path toward NATO membership. Ukraine was promised an invitation “when the allies agree and conditions are met”, safely leaving the timing and circumstances unspecified.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his most vocal supporters in central Europe wanted more, and they made it loud and clear.
Mr. Zelensky never pushed for Ukraine’s membership in NATO while the war was raging, nor has anyone else. But he was furious that NATO had set conditions for even inviting Ukraine to apply for membership. A NATO country official said he posted an angry message on Twitter on Tuesday when confronted with the draft statement’s language that angered Americans.
While he moderated his public language on Wednesday, the official said, he was threatening as of Tuesday night not to appear at the first session of the NATO-Ukraine Council.
He and his supporters were not alone in their disappointment. John Kornblum, an experienced diplomat and former US ambassador to Germany, now retired, was particularly harsh. He described the statement as bewildered and weak.
“He screams fear and insecurity with every word,” said Mr. Kornblum. “Ukraine’s future is with NATO, good. But please don’t ask when or how joining NATO will happen. Just make some (unspecified) reforms and we’ll see.”
After the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “it is legitimate for the Ukrainian president to claim with us, because he is fighting on the ground.” But he said, “We did what we needed to do, and we did it by keeping the allies united.”
He insisted that the summit provided tangible short- and long-term military aid to Ukraine, and “made it very clear that the path to NATO was there.”
Others saw a “failed opportunity,” as Michal Baranowski, managing director of the Warsaw-based German Marshall Fund, puts it. But, he said, after many months of war and many billions of Western dollars and euros in arms and financing, “Ukraine has never been closer to NATO.”
When Ukraine was initially promised membership in 2008, at a summit in Bucharest, this statement was a way to cover up deep and enduring divisions, as Germany and France were completely opposed to Ukrainian membership at the time, while Washington wanted to give Kiev a clear path to accession.
But now every country agrees to Ukraine joining NATO, even if the path and timing remain uncertain.
François Heisbourg, a French defense analyst, said the result in Vilnius was “not as weak as might be expected, but not as good as it should have been”. He said that given the strong opposition from Germany and the United States to providing a detailed path for Ukraine, the statement was about all that could be achieved.
However, he said, “the conceptual and political course has been set.” Ukraine will enter NATO. It’s going to happen now, and that’s a major cultural shift over the past month or so.”
Ben Wallace, the British Minister of Defence, agreed. “I think that winning here for Ukraine is a kind of cultural acceptance that Ukraine belongs to NATO,” he said. He said that no country is different. And the word “belongs” means it will happen. It is not an if, it is a time.
The admission came from a shift in both US and French policy, in which President Biden was willing to let Ukraine skip the initial membership work program that every other post-Soviet country would have had to submit to.
Mr. Macron himself, who began with a keynote speech on June 1 in Bratislava, has moved from opposition to Ukrainian membership to staunch support for it, partly trying to rebuild relations with Central Europe and partly because of Ukraine’s resilience in the face of Russia’s brutal onslaught.
Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, said that Ukraine is reaping great benefits. In addition to the clear promise of membership, and more promises of arms and the ability to go beyond MAP, Kiev’s relationship with NATO has been significantly upgraded with the NATO-Ukraine Council, where Ukraine can sit as equals and work towards preparing for membership.
And on Wednesday, the Group of Seven industrialized nations released the joint declaration He pledged long-term security assistance to Ukraine to bolster the beleaguered country’s defenses during and after its war with Russia — and during the upcoming US presidential election, too.
The declaration lays the groundwork for individual countries to negotiate their own arrangements with Ukraine for military and financial support, while keeping those commitments separate from NATO, which is eager not to look like a war-fighter and fuels Russia’s narrative that it is defending itself. In Ukraine against NATO.
President Biden said the commitments are meant to “help Ukraine build a strong and capable defense,” both now and after this conflict ends, to make it less likely that Russia will try to invade again before Ukraine can enter NATO and secure collective action. defense.
Despite any friction here, he praised Mr. Zelensky and the Ukrainians, saying: “You set an example for the whole world when it comes to true courage. Not just all of you but your people—your sons, your daughters, your husbands, your wives, your friends: you are incredible.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the G7 arrangement makes it possible for signatories to define their tangible contributions to Ukraine and include them “in a long-term strategy that Ukraine can then count on”.
Mr. Zelensky thanked Mr. Biden in particular and said these new commitments were “a victory for Ukraine — for our country, our people and our children.”
But Camille Grand, a former senior NATO official now with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said NATO also missed opportunities. He said it could have been more precise about what Ukraine must do to become a member when the conflict ends.
For example, he said, “he could have shown what the new NATO-Ukraine Council could do about it, and he could have tasked him with working with Kiev on the path to accession and reporting to the next NATO summit next year.”
Beyond language, he said, there is a more important discussion NATO should have. When “conditions permit” means when the conflict ends. But in the end, how and where is another source of internal coalition division, even as NATO countries hope the Ukrainian counteroffensive will be so successful.
“There should be a more substantive dialogue about the right moment to bring Ukraine in,” he said. “Some allies say it means complete peace, some say it means a permanent ceasefire, and some say it means a stable Line of Control,” he said. “But going there publicly is difficult, because you give Putin lines in the sand that he can play around with.”
Mr. Heisbourg agreed. Everyone accepts that Ukraine could not join during the war, so setting an exact date for accession is impossible. “But you can set the schedule,” he said. Then describe the three or four milestones that Ukraine must meet as part of the process.
Lara Jakes contributed reporting.